Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky. (slithytove) wrote,
Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky.

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We must become the Christmas we want to see

Christmas baking report:

4 batches, about 8 pounds, of sand tarts: we have ignition, we have lift-off, we have orbital freezer insertion. Done for the year.

I have also made this plum pudding.

It's... a lot. If you need to serve the entire Royal Welch Fusiliers, this recipe will do it, with some to spare for the Pals battalions. I have a steamed pudding mold. It got filled. I also filled a small Pyrex bowl. Now what? I then filled eight coffee mugs, and pressed into service every large pot with a cover that I own, that is suitable for use as a top-of-the-range steamer. Now I have a refrigerator rack full of puddings of all sizes. I've been eating my way through them. There are worse fates than this.

Possibly my coronary arteries feel otherwise. Plum pudding is a suet pudding. Suet, strictly speaking, is beef fat from around the kidneys. My local Acme doesn't carry this item. All their cows had been secretly operated on by UFO aliens, and their kidney suet removed, they said. Sorry. Or maybe they had only GMO cows bred with svelt, fat-free kidneys. Something.

I finally found suet at a local butcher shop which serves the old wealth of West Chester. God bless old wealth. I made off with a pound of suet.

So how did the recipe turn out? Not bad. Quite well, in fact. But I'm not convinced that it's any better than the simpler recipe I've used before, from a tattered 1960's paperback copy of the Fannie Farmer Boston Cooking School Cookbook. And both taste not *that* different from the Cross and Blackwell canned product.

In particular, the James Beard recipe linked here includes a fussy five-day procedure for macerating the glazed fruit in brandy. I suspect this is an example of what I call 'voodoo home economics': complicated culinary procedures that don't seem to actually improve the finished item over simpler techniques. Cookbooks and magazines with too high an opinion of themselves are prone to this sin. Cooks Illustrated, I'm looking at you.

I am amused that the recipe shows its age: 1963. "To use, steam again for 2-3 hours and unmold." In 1963 there were no microwave ovens. I don't mean to rag too hard on James Beard. A truly great American food writer. I have several of his cookbooks (the amazing mac and cheese recipe in my LJ Memories is a Beard recipe), and his approach is usually very straightforward and down to earth.

An unforeseen problem cropped up. When you steam in a vessel not made for it (i.e., with an open top), you have to cover it somehow. The usual method is aluminum foil secured by string. That's what I did. Most of the coffee cup mini-puddings came out fine. One, however...

See that orange stuff on the mug on the left? That's abnormal. The mug is supposed to look pretty much like the mug on the right. I'm guessing that orange stuff is some sort of salt of aluminum. Why this mug picked it up, and the others didn't, even another SH mug, I don't know. The mugs were acquired in different years, and may have been glazed by different factories and different processes.

Directions for Future Research

I got a nice email from someone who thought she remembered I posted a fruitcake recipe once, and wanted to know where to find it. As far as I can remember, though, I never have. I've made fruitcakes, but they've never been outstanding.

I don't believe the myth that fruitcake is an unnatural food, though. I have fond memories of my mom's fruitcakes from childhood. Of course, many things from one's childhood are probably better in memory than in fact. And some are worse. Memory is a dangerously capricious star to steer by.

I had already been planning on fruitcake experiments this year, though. This is one of them, and I've got another in mind that was recently in Philadelphia Magazine. Even as we speak, two pounds of glazed fruit are macerating in a cup and a quarter of triple sec.

I don't promise results until after New Year, fruit cake needing to incubate, and all. But I plan to continue to quest for fruitcake a while, until I find something worth posting about, or until I can at least return with the sad report that travelers' tales are false, there is no true fruitcake, anywhere in this world.
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